The wine and cheese partnership is probably even more famous than the wine and chocolate team. It goes back a long time as well. Cheese and wine are even better enjoyed together! They have more in common than you might assume. They start as agricultural products: grapes and milk. The variations in the end products are affected by which animals or grape varieties are used, the production process, and the terroir (climate, soil type and topography) of their provenance, all shining through as different flavor profiles. The winemaker has an influence on his wines, how the taste develops, the amount of oak, steel, fermentation, crispness and tannins, etc. The cheese maker can choose how to age, develop her cheese, the bacteria and the salt, et cetera.
When trying to find the best combinations, the best thing to do is to experiment. There are a few guidelines to keep in mind. Cheese and wine often work very well together because the proteins of the cheese can soften the tannic (drying) molecules and astringent (acid) compounds of the wine.
The harder types of cheese, like Cheddar or Parmesan can work well with more tannic wines (like red wines). Tannin is that drying taste in your mouth from drinking red wines that may remind you of strong tea or unripe bananas. Red wines get these tannins from the grape skins, seeds, stems and/or the aging barrels.
Creamy cheeses, like Camembert or Brie, typically pair better with wines that have more acidity and lower tannins like a Chardonnay or a Pinot Noir.
Salty cheeses need a sweet wine partner, like the delicious combination of blue cheese and port.
So, with these thoughts in mind, we went off to experiment, a tough job, but not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon. There are some truly great cheeses made here in New York. One such place is Snofarm Cheese in Brooktondale. This time of year I found two cheeses available, Par Fet (similar to Parmesan) and Dream Street (Gouda style).
We started off our pairings in the Damiani winery tasting room. Their Chardonnay brought out a delicious nuttiness in the Dream Street, a flavor of walnuts. It was a lovely combination. The Damiani Merlot paired with the Dream Street brought up impressions of Christmas: spice, cloves, mushrooms. And the Dream Street cheese went very well with the Dry Riesling.
The Par Fet paired very well with the Damiani Pinot Grigio, a sweeter white than the Chardonnay. The Pinot was a great partner with the saltiness of the cheese, and the pairing brings out the citrus and lightness of the Pinot Grigio. Their Sauvignon Blanc brings out the nuttiness and saltiness of the cheese along with fruitiness of the wine.
We moved on to another selection of delicious New York cheeses from Lively Run Goat Dairy. These included chevre, feta and Cayuga Blue. The Damiani Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon all brought out the creaminess and flavor of the chevre.
We then proceeded down Seneca Lake to Red Newt Cellars, where the chevre was nicely balanced with the spiciness and the acidity of their Gewürztraminer, which accentuated the creaminess of the cheese. Another delightful stop was at Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars, where the reserve, dry and red oak-aged Rieslings were marvelous with the chevre. The red oak reminded us of baklava, The Lamoreaux Landing and Damiani Chardonnay were great with the Lively Run feta, bringing out a lovely lemony flavor enhancing both the wine and the cheese. The Lively Run Cayuga Blue cheese paired very well with the Ports of New York White Meleau, which is offered at Ports of New York and Lamoreaux Landing (whose grapes are used to make the port).
Keeley's Cheese Company in King Ferry makes Across the Pond, which was very nice with Red Newt’s Niagara, mellowing the sharpness of the cheese, bringing out an earthiness and fruitiness of the wine. This cheese also went wonderful with Damiani Cabernet Sauvignon bringing out the flavor of earthiness and mushrooms.
Lamoreaux Landing’s Chardonnay went great with the Fingerlakes Farmstead Red Meck, bringing out a flavor similar to peanut, good for appetizers, summer evenings. A Finger Lakes Farmstead Cheese called Schuyler paired very well with the Damiani Merlot and Cabernet Franc.
Old Chatham Camembert Sheepherding Company from the Hudson Valley region has a lovely creamy camembert that is a good pairing with Damiani Pinot Grigio, and delicious with Damiani Chardonnay, which softens the cheese. Damiani Pinot Noir it is really great with this Camembert, bringing out an amazing earthy flavor of porcini mushrooms. Actually the Pinot Noirs from all three wineries were lovely with Old Chatham Sheepherding Company Camembert, a smoothing, woodsy balance of the cheese and wine. The pairing with Damiani Merlot had an interesting smoothing effect.
As with many food and wine combinations I find that staying regional seems to work best. There is an accepted saying that “what grows together goes together.” With such great wines and cheeses in this area, why not test the proverb.
Annemarie Morse, MPS in Enology, Cornell University, Certified Wine Judge, American Wine Society, Chairman of the Finger Lakes Chapter of the American Wine Society